Student-based group work (also known as team work) has become an integral part of studying at UTS. This mode of teaching has primarily arisen in an attempt to capture many of the benefits associated with collaborative activities (namely peer learning and graduate attribute development).
While efforts have be made to embrace group-based learning at UTS, students' reaction to these efforts appear somewhat mixed. Recent data collected from a number of sources at UTS (eg. Planning & Quality Unit, Institute for Interactive Media and Learning, UTS BELL Program), suggests that students have strong opinions (both positive and negative) associated with group work.
From a positive perspective, students report enjoying the social aspect of group work (eg. making new friends and networking) and the benefits deriving from group synergy (eg. sharing workloads). Despite recognising these positive aspects, most students at UTS hold an overall negative attitude towards group work. This is particularly so for collaborative activities that are formally assessed. Students report that their dissatisfaction with group work stems mainly from:
- the tasks set for group work (ie. not being suitable for group work)
- the selection of group members
- the inability to manage each other (due to equal status)
- the short time frames associated with group assignments
- the disproportionate investment of time needed to earn a good mark compared with an individual task
- the much greater risk level associated with group work (compared to an individual task)
This research also suggests that this overall negative attitude towards group work originates from a number of key problems faced by students whilst participating in group work. These are:
- organising and running group meetings
- making decisions together
- allocating tasks to group members
- dealing with group loafers
- dealing with over domineering group members
- resolving conflicts (both minor and major) within the group
How can we help students work in groups?
In recent years, many efforts have been made to enhance the functioning of student groups and to improve the overall attitude students hold toward group work. Whilst many of the initiatives have been highly successful, their dissemination to the broader academic community has been difficult. This is mainly due to the trend of reporting teaching and learning innovations at the disciplinary level. This means that many of the "best practices" developed and applied in one faculty may never be known by those in other faculties even though they may be applicable and capable of enhancing the subject's teaching and learning objectives.
In an attempt to address this concern (and the many problems associated with group work raised earlier), the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning (IML) has produced this Resource Kit devoted to the topic of student-based group work. This Kit has been derived from multiple disciplines and covers a range of "best practice" teaching and learning techniques devoted to improving group work for students.
This Kit is divided into seven units:
Unit 1: Designing Group Assignments
Unit 2: Preparing Students for Group Work
Unit 3: Forming Effective Groups
Unit 4: Getting Groups Started
Unit 5: Monitoring Groups
Unit 6: Assessing Groups
Unit 7: Helping Students Reflect on their Group Experience
Within these units you will find a range of techniques and tips which may be useful for your own group-based teaching. This Kit also contains a number of group exercises to run with students and a few "must read" articles which can be found in the appendices.
Presently, the content of this Resource Kit focuses on student groups in a face-to-face environment who are working together on a collaborative assessment task (eg. group assignment). However much of this content is also relevant to groups operating on-line, provided that there is some face-to-face group interaction (eg. in the formation stage, if groups have face-to-face meetings).